My college friends will always hold a special place in my heart. There’s something about growing up together — the metamorphosis from a freshman dropped off in the family car to a “real” adult worried about careers, apartment rents, and car payments — that bonds us so completely to our college tribe. Our HerStories Project book contributor Samantha Brinn Merel captures this unique bond in this guest post. – Jessica
“Thirty-one doesn’t need a lot of fanfare. It just wants dinner in Manhattan, an amazing dessert, a fun drink or two, and my very best friends all sitting around the same table. It is realizing for what feels like the millionth time that these people I call friends are really my family, and that this path I walk would be impassable without them.”
I wrote these words last Friday on my thirty-first birthday. Sitting around the table the next night for the aforementioned Manhattan dinner, looking into the faces of my very best friends – my college friends – it hit me how true they really are. And it hit me that this coming May an anniversary is on the horizon. Nine years since our graduation from Brandeis University, our safe haven in the tiny town of Waltham, Massachusetts, nine miles outside of Boston.
In the world of higher education, where reunions are routinely marked every five years, nine is not a particularly momentous number. Almost four years since our fifth reunion. A little more than one year until our tenth. But something about this nine year mark struck me. Maybe because there have been so many changes, both good and bad, since we gathered on campus almost four years ago for our fifth reunion. Or maybe because nine years seem to have passed both slowly and so very, very quickly. Or most likely because, looking around that table into the faces of the women who are like sisters to me, I was struck again by the fact that a mere twist of fate sent me to Brandeis, and to them. And in that moment, I was just so damn grateful for them, and for us, and for the miracle that brought us to each other.
On the way home from dinner that night, I found myself on my phone, flipping through pictures of our graduation day. And suddenly, I was not in a car driving up the West Side Highway towards home, but back at Brandeis in May of 2005. Lining up to march on a gloomy Sunday morning amid a sea of black caps and gowns. Hoods no one could quite figure out how to attach. A speaker we were too preoccupied to hear. A shower of blue and white balloons. Cameras snapping. Laughs. Smiles. Tears. Excitement over what was to come. Wishing badly for just one more year – or two, or four – in the warm embrace of the campus that had become our home.
We met as Freshman. Wide-eyed and new. We were finally there. College. A land filled with unknown places and faces, just waiting to be discovered. And in all that vast and unknown territory, we met each other. Together we twirled and navigated our way through those crazy beautiful college days. We learned, and loved, and grew. We laughed until our sides hurt, and we cried ourselves dry. We accomplished and we stumbled in equal measure. We had fun. Huge sunbursts of fun.
We lived together and studied together. Drank vast amounts of coffee and ate late night junk food together. We analyzed everything in that beautifully complex way that only college girls can. We learned about each other and about ourselves. And we planned for the great unknown future. And hoped that we would still be together.
Those pictures took me back. And when I looked back I saw us then. Gathering in a freshman common room on that first, terrifying night. Piling into booths in Sherman Dining Hall. Trudging up the Rabb Steps in blinding snow and unbearable heat. Navigating move-in days and frantic housing lottery weeks. Filling Ziv common rooms on Friday nights. Going back to our freshman quad during senior week; walking the halls where our journey began. Staring at those falling balloons on graduation day with a mixture of awe and dread. Coming back to campus five years later for three incredible days to relive it all.
And sitting around that table celebrating my thirty-first birthday I looked at us now. At all we have accomplished. At our good lives. And I feel so incredibly lucky. Lucky to have had the four years that preceded graduation day; the years that made an indelible mark on who I was and the person I have become. To have the friendships forged during those years. To know that I always will. To have stood for these women at their weddings, and them for mine. To have cuddled their babies and watched them grow. To have celebrated new apartments and new jobs. New houses and new homes. To have laughed together and dried each other’s tears. To have been silly and serious and everything in between.
And I wondered. I wonder what we will think when we look back on today, many years from now. I hope we’ll feel the same way. Nostalgic for the past. Happy about the now. Excited for all that still lies ahead. Lucky to still have each other.
As the car turned into our driveway I made a silent toast, the last of my birthday weekend. To the girls we were then. To the women we are now. And to the path we still walk.
Do you still keep in touch with your college friends? How often do you see them? Is your bond still there?
Samantha is a lawyer, runner, writer and pop-culture junkie living in the suburbs of New York City. Samantha writes at her blog, This Heart of Mine, and was a contributor to our book, The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain, and Power of Female Friendship.